The Problem: 80% of India’s sewage flows untreated into its rivers yet 67% of households do not treat their drinking water
Safe drinking water is a basic necessity most of us take for granted. Unfortunately, its availability and quality is severely constrained in large parts of rural India. According to a recent UNICEF Report titled “Water in India: Situation and Prospects”, India has about 16% of the world’s population; however, the country is home to only 4% of the world’s water resources. Sharing of available water resources is a larger political issue; water quality and accessibility is a grave problem that affects people at the grassroots level throughout the country.
Poor health leads to wasted rupees
Poor sanitation and lack of potable water is a problem that plagues rural India. The lack of basic hygiene and sanitation facilities aggravate the problem of water contamination. India’s scores on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) are appalling — approximately 67% of households do not treat their drinking water and 638 million people (almost half the population) still defecate in the open. Ill effects of drinking contaminated water include poor health, increased spending on medicines and economic losses for the nation in the long term. According to the World Bank, lack of safe drinking water results in economic losses of $4.2 billion a year for the country.
What is contaminating our waters?
Some of the crucial issues affecting quality of water supply in rural India are unregulated groundwater extraction and water pollution due to poor waste management laws. Water can rendered unfit for consumption due to various reasons:
- Surface water supplies are often contaminated with fecal matter due to the widespread practice of open defecation. The presence of microbiological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and parasites impact water potability.
- Drinking water may also contain chemical contaminants that are by-products of industrial and agricultural activities. 80% of sewage in India is untreated and flows directly into the nation’s rivers, polluting one of the main sources of drinking water.
- Groundwater in many heavily populated areas of India contains arsenic and fluoride contamination. Specifically, districts in seventeen states suffer from fluoride contamination and traces of arsenic contamination have been found in seven states (in the Ganga-Brahmaputra plain) in India. Ill effects of consuming fluoride-contaminated water include skeletal fluorosis, a crippling disease that leads to joint pains, bone fractures, nerve destruction and stunted growth. Consumption of arsenic contaminated water over the long-term results in arsenicosis, a cancer-causing disease that debilitates the hands, feet, and mouth.
Unitus seeking to seed water companies
As part of our focus on companies providing basic necessities, Unitus Ventures (formerly Unitus Seed Fund) is looking to fund startups with innovative and cost-effective solutions for providing safe drinking water to low-income populations in India. We are in process of scouting the landscape for companies with disruptive technologies and scalable and sustainable business models.